My world opens from East to West
Didn't start school in September, as most American children do, or in April, as do most children in Japan, the country of my birth. My first day of school came late in the fall, and although I was not aware of how momentous a step I was taking, I was of course excited; a new adventure was about to begin. For my parents had decided to send me not to the neighborhood Japanese school, but to the American School in Japan, an hour's commute by streetcar and bus from my home in the suburbs of Tokyo.Skip to next paragraph
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My parents must have had many a discussion before they made a decision that was highly unusual in the context of the Japan of the 1930s. (The nation was already beginning its slide into disastrous militarism and war.) My father's reasoning was relatively simple. Having struggled with English since his teens, and having become a rising employee in an Anglo-American trading company, he wanted his first son to become bilingual at an early age.
My mother had more complicated motives. At home, I spoke English with her, and Japanese with everyone else, including my best friend, Jun-chan. To my mother, English was more than a means of communication. She had learned it the hard way, having joined her diplomat parents in Ottawa when she was nearly 14, straight from her grandmother's home in the depths of rural Japan.
Along with the language, and the friends that went with it, came new values, nurtured during 7-1/2 years in Canada and the United States: freedom, equality, democracy, individuality, Christianity. If her husband's job couldn't give her two sons the opportunity of living in these lands, she wanted them to have whatever came closest to duplicating her own experience.
Whatever their motives, my parents' decision severed me from the normal pattern of my neighborhood pals. I would not be going with Jun-chan and my other friends - with whom I had caught cicadas, stolen green tomatoes, and played at war with thorn-tipped bamboo sticks - to the primary school down the street, to be educated in the language and culture of my own country. That would come later - after reading and writing in English had become so natural to me that I would never forget it.
The decision to enroll me in the American School marked the first step in my journey out of monoculturalism and into the appreciation and practice of multiculturalism - being at home in more than one culture. That sounds sententious, but I have to say it because, over the years, along with my own personal values - belief in an omnipotent and all-loving God, respect for the individual as the expression of God's being - multiculturalism has become so ingrained in my makeup that I cannot think in single-culture terms.
The journey has been far from easy and obstacle-free. Many times, especially during World War II, I resented my parents' decision and wished with all my heart that I had had the normal Japanese upbringing - believing in the uniqueness of the Japanese people and worshiping the emperor as the symbol of that uniqueness. I knew too much to accept at face value the propaganda being churned out by the government and the imperial Japanese forces, but I was uncomfortable in this knowledge and wished I could be a true believer in the righteousness of the Japanese cause.